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Strikes against pensions reform pile heaps of woes on streets in France

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily | Updated: 2023-03-16 07:00

General Confederation of Labour trade union members demonstrate against the government's pensions reform plan in Bobigny, near Paris, France, on Tuesday. GONZALO FUENTES/REUTERS

Paris' reputation as one of the world's most glamorous and photogenic cities is being seriously damaged by a wave of strikes across France over the government's planned reform of the pensions system, as it has led to rubbish piling up on its streets and refuse workers taking industrial action.

City authorities estimate around 6,600 tons of rubbish have been left out on the streets since cleaning staff went on strike, which Agence France-Presse said has been extended until at least next Monday.

Jean-Francois Rial, president of the Paris tourism office, admitted that scenes of litter-strewed streets were "not optimal for foreign visitors" but told AFP that they were not having any impact on the number of visitors coming to the capital.

As well as being an eyesore, the uncollected rubbish also poses a public health risk. The BBC quoted one French radio pundit as calling it an "all you can eat buffet" for the city's rat population, while pest behavior specialist Romain Lasseur told Le Parisien newspaper that the strike "triggers a change in rat behavior".

"They'll rummage around in bins, reproduce there, and leave their urine and droppings. We have a worrying health risk for refuse collectors and the general population," he added.

Strikes have intermittently hobbled other sectors, including transportation, energy and ports, but French President Emmanuel Macron remains undaunted as his government presses ahead with trying to get the controversial pensions reform bill passed in parliament. The bill would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 for most people and from 57 to 59 for most people in the sanitation sector.

Staging protests

Opponents of the pensions plan staged an eighth round of strikes and protests Wednesday as a joint committee of senators and lower-house lawmakers examines the contested bill.

Unions are hoping that demonstrations across the country will further show workers' massive opposition to the plan, promoted by Macron as central to his vision for making the French economy more competitive.

Last week, the French Senate, the upper house of the country's parliament, passed the bill by 195 votes to 112, and a final draft is now being put together for the approval of the Senate and National Assembly.

"It is a decisive step to make reform happen that will ensure the future of our pensions system," Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne tweeted on hearing the news, adding that she was "totally committed to ensuring the text will be definitively adopted in the coming days".

But the passage so far has fired up passions on both sides, with socialist Senator Monique Lubin telling Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt "Your name will forever be attached to a reform that will set the clock back almost 40 years" during the debate.

Wednesday's meeting of seven senators and seven lawmakers from the National Assembly was meant to find an accord on the final version of the text. A decisive vote on the issue was expected on Thursday.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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